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Proposed Medical School sets new direction for GP training

PRESS RELEASE New Zealand Rural General Practice Network, October 18, for immediate use

The concept of training medical students from rural backgrounds in rural communities to work in those communities, as proposed by The University of Waikato, is a huge shot in the arm for the sector, says the New Zealand Rural General Practice Network.

“That very concept was outlined by Canadian-based rural GP and educator Professor Roger Strasser who spoke at our national rural health conference in Dunedin earlier this year and it’s fantastic that Waikato has picked up the baton and is prepared to run with it in New Zealand,” says New Zealand Rural General Practice Network Chief Executive Dalton Kelly.

Professor Strasser is the Dean of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine whose keynote conference presentation entitled “Distributed Community Engaged Learning: Socially Accountable Education in Canada’s Rural North” profiled the successful model of training and practising in Canada’s rural and remote north.

More generalist doctors, enhanced access to health care, inter-professional cooperation, health research and responsiveness to rural/remote rural and indigenous peoples, were some of the benefits outlined by Professor Strasser in his presentation, says Mr Kelly.

“We are pleased that such a great idea has been picked up and developed for rural New Zealand,” he says.

Announced yesterday, the proposed new Waikato Medical School will be a community engaged, graduate entry school based in the Waikato and at regional education sites in 12-15 locations throughout the central north Island. The proposed school is in response to health workforce shortages and in particular shortages of primary care doctors and specialists in provincial and rural centres and hospitals, the university says in a press release.

The first intake is expected in 2020.

Mr Kelly says that more GP training places with an emphasis on filling a long term shortage of doctors in rural communities is overdue and welcomed and a third medical school will help achieve this.

“Given New Zealand’s reliance on International Medical Graduates (IMGs) to fill an historical shortage in the rural workforce coupled with a retirement bubble of GPs across New Zealand, it seems prudent that we start training more doctors in New Zealand on a rural pathway as soon as possible. This should have been done a decade ago.

“The statistics speak for themselves,” says Mr Kelly, “with about a quarter of all rural practices having short, long-term and permanent vacancies at any one time (a 2015 Royal New Zealand College of GPs workforce survey indicated that 34 percent of rural GPs have a permanent vacancy in their practice compared to 19 percent in urban), a heavy reliance on overseas trained doctors to fill short, long-term and permanent positions (54 percent are IMGs in rural compared to 37 percent in urban) and numbers of GPs in rural New Zealand that expect to retire in the next 10 years is estimated to be 40.4 percent (34.7 percent in urban).

“While our recruitment of International Medical Graduates to support our health teams is an ongoing reality and necessity, we do not feel that this is the long term solution for our issues. Simply, we need more doctors trained and this is a huge step forward.

“It’s a great initiative, now let’s do the same for other rural health professions such as nurses, pharmacists, physios and midwives,” says Mr Kelly.

The Network has supported similar training initiatives at Otago and Auckland who have rural immersion training programmes for medical students wanting to work in rural New Zealand. “We believe this Waikato initiative is complementary to the existing programmes and in fact takes some of the pressure off them,” says Mr Kelly.

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